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Don Byron: Do the Boomerang

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We learn two things in the course of Don Byron’s new album, Do the Boomerang: The Music of Junior Walker. One, he can play the tenor sax as convincingly as he plays the clarinet. Two, he can get downright funky.

We already knew Byron was a chameleon. In the past 14 years, he’s released a dozen albums, covering everything from klezmer and cartoon music to chamber jazz, classical pieces, pop songs, soul and bop. This time he serves up a stew of soul, R&B and funk in an album-long salute to the great Motown saxophonist, vocalist and bandleader. And what a tight outfit Byron has assembled. Byron’s prowess on the tenor sax may attract the attention-he plays it on 10 of these 12 tracks, and gets a nice, fat sound out of it, not altogether different from Junior Walker’s-but it is his tight band that keeps things burning. Organist George Colligan and the always-intense guitarist David Gilmore feed off each other’s energy, matching solo for solo, trading barbs like mad, but never getting in each other’s way.

Oddly enough, the band has the most fun with the disc’s only non-JW song: the James Brown number “There It Is,” which in this humble writer’s opinion is one of the most fun tunes in the history of pop music. Byron and trombonist Curtis Fowlkes form a smoking frontline, and Chris Thomas King channels JB to a T. Things only heat up more with the next track, “Satan’s Blues,” a sweltering blues that features Gilmore tearing it up. Byron is showing us he can pretty much do anything. What’s next, heavy metal?